Monday, 4 May 2015

May 4th Mousehold Heath and RSPB Minsmere

Sunrise at Mousehold Heath
I am awake early yet again for another dawn chorus. This time, I am helping Will (the Mousehold Heath warden) out with a guided group walk and a bird survey at the same time. The seven of us were surrounded by a cacophony of bird sound as we walked round the survey route. I pointed out every species we could hear and Will recorded them on a map. It was a beautiful morning unlike yesterday's washout.

We could hear the songs and calls of; blackbirds, song thrushes, a mistle thrush rattling, chiffchaffs, willow warblers, blackcaps, whitethroats, goldcrests, blue tits, great tits, coal tits, long-tailed tits, chaffinches, greenfinches, goldfinches, woodpigeons, collard doves, feral pigeons, house sparrows and treecreepers. We also got to see our first swift of the year, a sparrowhawk, a peregrine flying over the cityscape and a couple of muntjac deer. It was a great record haul for the survey and everyone enjoyed this morning's walk and found it worth waking up early for.
[Note: If you can't hear the videos, click on the video's title and watch it on my Youtube channel. If you are still having trouble, make a comment below]

Carrion Crow
Mother Oak, the oldest tree on Mousehold
Red Campion

Sand Martins
After a spot of breakfast with Will and two members of our group and then a short nap on the sofa at home, I was out again. My parents were taking me out to Minsmere. It was pretty busy when we got there with so many families and birdwatchers making the most of the Bank Holiday. The visitor centre and it's cafe was packed full of people. Outside, nature too was busy. Adjacent to the visitor centre building, a sandy cliff was attracting a hive of activity from a swarm of sand martins. These birds arrive back to the same nest holes in the cliff (which is completely covered with these holes) every year. We watch them fly in and out of them every second, visiting in a flash of a moment each time.

Ant-lion pits
By the visitor centre's rear doors, sand pits are barriered off like some flowerbed. These sand pits hold a secret. The sand is potmarked with circular impressions. These are traps of the ant-lion larvae, a small creature with deadly jaws which will eventually become a damselfly-like insect. If you have seen 'Return of the Jedi', you may remember the part where they get fed to this worm-like thing in a giant pit in the desert. Well, it is pretty much what happens here, without the lightsabers! Ants slip down the pit and gets eaten by the ant-lion sitting in the centre. A fascinating little monster.

There was one thing on the sightings board I wanted to see the most. Actually, I don't want to see it but hear it. Nightingales were reported to be singing near a building on top of a hill, which the BBC's Springwatch team will be using in a few weeks time. We walked over there and I heard them! Two nightingales were dueting in the gorse and shrubs next to the Springwatch building. It was magical, like listening to two musical geniuses. The sound of them moves you. It's unexplainable. No wonder poets from the trenches of World War One where inspired by them from out of the horrors they encountered there.

Male Three-spined Stickleback
As we made our way down the hill towards Island Mere Hide, a flash of a green woodpecker flew past like a missile into some trees where the nightingales were singing. We got to the bridge leading to the hide, but there was so much going on outside that it was hard to draw us away and get inside. Five hobbies circled above us like large swifts. Marsh harriers soared over the reedbeds in display, making the hobbies look small in comparison. Below us, male sticklebacks guard over their nests like caring fathers. Their blue eyes and red undersides impresses my mum. When we did finally get inside the hide, we saw a reed bunting, great crested grebes, cormorants and a few waterfowl such as swans. Not as exciting, but still good.

Adders have been recently drawing crowds to Minsmere and the staff here have found a way of stopping people from getting far off the main path between Island Mere Hide and Bittern Hide and still give us the chance to see them. They have created a path that follows an area roped off alongside it. This is the Adder Path and it lives up to it's name during our visit today. A crowd welcomes us and helps us locate a very well camourflaged female bathing in sunlinght amongst a patch of leaf litter. She is beautiful! It's amazing that some people fear it because it is the UK's only venomous snake. But adders are pretty harmless, they only strike if you annoy it. Most of the time, these snakes try to avoid us.

Bitterns have been booming throughout our walk in the woods. The sound reverberates through us. It is an incredible feeling! It sounds like it was coming from somewhere in the area near Bittern Hide. We got inside the hide, but it was jam packed with birdwatchers. There was nowhere to sit and the spaces to stand was starting to feel like a can of sardines. Nobody looked willing to let anyone else take their turn on the benches, so we gave up and left.

I wanted a walk around the scrapes and along the beach, while my parents wanted to go back to the cafe for their lunch. So, we decided to split up. I visited three hides seeing linnets, swallows, sand martins, avocets, redshanks, dunlin, shelducks, little ringed plovers, barnacle geese, Sandwich terns, a common sandpiper, whitethroats, greylag geese with goslings and peacock and orange-tip butterflies. I left the hide by the beach to get back to reunite with my parents, but I stopped to notice a boy with a slow-worm wrapped around his hands, showing it to his family. He seemed to be holding it properly as these legless lizards have a trick of losing their tails to escape danger. It is as beautiful as the adder. Eventually, I managed to meet up with my parents after a few more distractions and we made our way home. It has been a long day!

Greylags and goslings
Female Linnet
Male Linnet
Sandwich Terns


  1. Wow, you have had a busy few days! Looks like you had much kinder weather than soggy Sunday! The videos were great and worked fine.